The American Quarter Horse Is One Of The World’s Most Popular Breeds
The origin of the breed can be traced to Colonial America, to the early days of our nation. At this time, sprint racing, similar to modern Quarter Horse racing today, was popular in the streets of Virginia. It gained this popularity due to the fact that participants did not need a fancy track. That is to say, they just used what was already there… the street! But in 1674 this practice was deemed illegal, as people were literally being run over in the streets!!! At this point, the horse had no official name but was called a variety of things, including the Colonial Sprinter, the Quarter Pather and the Illustrious Colonial Quarter Running Horse. Although English Thoroughbreds were raced in the new world, it wasn’t long before Colonial farmers started to breed their English ponies to a faster, sturdier horse. In 1752, a horse named Janus was imported to Virginia. He was a grandson of the Godolphin Arabian and he was quick and compact. His build worked beautifully for the breeders cause and because of this, Janus is credited as the foundation sire of the American Quarter Horse.
Over the next 150 years, the product of this breeding would come to be known as the “American Quarter Horse”. Now known as the ‘World’s Fastest Athlete’ , the term “Quarter” refers to the distance of the race, most commonly a quarter of a mile. This 440 yard distance is still known as American Quarter Horse Racing’s ‘classic distance’ today.
Important Facts About American Quarter Horse Racing:
Quarter Horse racing began on a straight track of four hundred forty yards, or one quarter mile. While this is still the most prolific distance in modern racing, races are held at distances as little as 100 yards and as much as 1000 yards! The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), the official breed registry for quarter horses, only recognizes races run at 1000 yards or less.
With few exceptions, Quarter Horse races are run in a straight path, with horses running at top speeds for the duration of the race. Turns are rare, so many races end with several horses grouped together at the wire for an exciting photo finish!
The track configuration is similar to Thoroughbred racing, with races run on a dirt surface, sometimes out of a chute.
In order to win, the Quarter Horse must accelerate extremely fast out of the starting gate, and maintain that speed right up to the finish line. Think of it as horse racing’s version of drag racing.
Similar to Thoroughbred racing, Quarter Horse Racing too has a Triple Crown and a marquee event. However, 2 year old racing is the most prolific type of racing when is comes to quarter horses and the Triple Crown consists of futurities, or races restricted to 2 year old horses. The Quarter Horse Triple Crown comprises the Ruidoso Futurity each June, the Rainbow Futurity each July, and the All American Futurity. The ‘jewel’ of Quarter Horse racing, The All American Futurity, takes place at Ruidoso Downs in the mountains of New Mexico every Labor Day. The first and only horse to win the Quarter Horse Triple Crown was Special Effort in 1981.
The quality of a quarter horse’s performance is based on a number known as the Speed Index (SI). This number is derived by taking the three fastest running times at one track over a three year period and averaging them out. This number represents the 100 Speed Index. Based on time, a horse’s performance is then adjusted up or down and the according number is given. For example, if a time of 21 seconds is representative of the 100 index and horse’s effort is timed in 21.25 seconds, that horse would be given a speed index less than 100. Conversely, if a horse were to run faster than 21 seconds, the speed index given would be greater than 100.
Quarter Horse racing is conducted at many race tracks through the United States and is a prolific sport in Mexico, Canada, and South American countries as well.